As the curtain came down on another year of Formula One on Sunday at the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, so it did on the career – in this series at least – of Fernando Alonso.
Alonso is walking away from F1 with two world titles, 32 race wins, and potentially a considerable amount of regret as one of the sport’s best drivers but also biggest conundrums, having only won two championships in 17 years due to a cocktail of bad choices and bad luck.
This year has proved to be the final straw for the former champion, who has been languishing around the midfield for several seasons in an under-performing McLaren and in recent months has lashed out at the sport on more than one occasion.
“What happens now is not the Formula One that made me want to be a racing driver,” Alonso told Speed Week. “I quit F1 because I think we’re a weak show.”
Alonso believes the sport has changed for the worse and blames the dependency on technology and lack of creativity available in strategies as key reasons for it.
The 37-year-old also hit out at the number of inexperienced drivers on the grid after the US Grand Prix, saying: “There are more amateurs here than in other series – the level is lower.”
His weariness was evident on his farewell race, with Alonso responding to a McLaren engineer’s cajoling words “go and get a point” with the pithy: “I’ve already got 1,800.” He finished 11th, just outside the points.
The Spaniard became the youngest driver to claim a pole position, win a race and become world champion, and although those records are no longer his, they were early signs of his undisputed talent behind the wheel.
It was always going to take someone special to end Michael Schumacher’s dominance and Alonso’s back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006 did just that, ultimately earning him a dream move to McLaren.
What followed next is perhaps most emblematic of Alonso’s unfulfilled potential. A difficult period with McLaren ensued as he fell out with team boss Ron Dennis amid the arrival of a new golden boy, Lewis Hamilton.
Despite the No1 on Alonso’s car and his standing as a double world champion, McLaren allowed the pair to compete on the track – much to the Spaniard’s annoyance. Alonso’’s relationship with Dennis became irreparable and he left McLaren after both parties agreed to terminate his contract early.
He moved back to an uncompetitive Renault for two disappointing seasons before getting another shot with one of the elite teams – Ferrari. He replaced Kimi Raikonnen in 2010 and spent five seasons there, but could not add to his two titles.
In both 2010 and 2012 Alonso lost out on the title on the final day of the season to Sebastian Vettel, while in other years Ferrari failed to challenge for top honours. He left at the end of 2014 after falling out with team director Marco Mattiacci.
In 2015 he moved back to McLaren and claimed it was a risk he was willing to take to win, despite their return to Honda – and now Renault – engines, but it proved an unsuccessful venture.
With his F1 career having taken a downward turn, the 37-year-old has tried his hand in other series simultaneously.
This season he was part of the Toyota team that won 24 Hours of Le Mans and he has been regularly involved in the World Endurance Championship – a pursuit he has confirmed he will continue next year.
Alonso also took part in his first Indy 500 race last year and will return in 2019 as he pursues motorsport’s Triple Crown, having already won two of the three prestigious races in the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans.
He has admitted he does not know what the future holds but has accepted a return to this level is unlikely as he nears 40.
His achievements in F1 are great and should not be maligned, but his record is not one befitting a man that Hamilton claims is the best he has ever raced against.